Editor’s note: This story has been updated.
LGBTQ advocates including students, alumni and OUT Foundation members gathered in the Wilkinson Student Center on Monday for a Valentine’s demonstration.
The group of around 50 participants were encouraged to engage in showing affection at the level they were comfortable with. Some held hands while others passed out flowers and Valentine’s cards.
The Church removed the “homosexual behavior” section of the Honor Code in mid-February 2020 and students were confused on whether they could date in same-sex relationships. On March 4, 2020, the Church Educational System released a letter clarifying the situation. “Same-sex romantic behavior cannot lead to eternal marriage and is therefore not compatible with the principles in the Honor Code,” it said.
Colter Rosborough, the OUT Foundation’s student outreach coordinator, said organizers were hoping to show students in the LGBTQ community there are people to accept and care for them. The OUT Foundation is not a university-sponsored group and works to “empower the LGBTQ+ students and alumni of Brigham Young University in achieving their intellectual, social and professional potential” according to its website.
“We’re trying to show just how harmless the community is,” Rosborough said. “There’s nothing really wrong with coming in and loving people. Love is love.”
BYU’s demonstration policy says demonstrations should be consistent with BYU’s faith-based mission and intellectual environment. The dean of students, managing director of BYU Police and BYU Security, the vice president of belonging and academic vice president all need to approve or deny demonstration applications.
According to the policy, only individuals who are current students or employees may participate in on-campus demonstrations and are prohibited from doing so within university buildings. “Demonstrations must not seriously and adversely affect the university mission or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” it says.
University Communications has not yet responded for comment on the event.
Matt Easton is a BYU alumnus who came out as gay during his valedictorian speech in 2019. This was his first time in the WSC since being a student, and he said it was a little scary returning. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland spoke at BYU’s University Conference on Aug. 23, 2021 referring to Easton’s speech.
“If a student commandeers a graduation podium intended to represent everyone getting diplomas in order to announce his personal sexual orientation, what might another speaker feel free to announce the next year until eventually anything goes?” Elder Holland said.
“What might commencement come to mean — or not mean — if we push individual license over institutional dignity for very long? Do we simply end up with more divisiveness in our culture than we already have — and we already have too much everywhere.”
Easton said he could never have imagined something like the demonstration happening on campus when he was a student. “But so far, it’s been amazing. It’s been great. I’m so proud,” Easton said, referring to the queer students here at BYU. “They’re so brave. They are so amazing and courageous. And that just fills me with so much hope.”
“I think that there have always been queer people here at BYU, and maybe just for the first time, there’s finally more and more visibility, and I hope that doesn’t stop,” Easton said.
Comedian and former Studio C actor Stacey Harkey also feels the situation for queer students has gotten better since his time at the university. Harkey came out as gay in 2018 and spoke at the unofficial BYU Pride March back in June 2021.
“I’m not here to cause a ruckus and not to cause a scene,” Harkey told The Daily Universe during the event. “Our agenda is love.”
He said BYU’s environment of learning has brought open-minded people to the university who are doing their best to be loving. Once people listen to each other, they realize they have a lot more in common. He said, “There’s a lot more humanity at play here.”
BYU sophomore Grace Christensen participated in the demonstration and emphasized loving everyone as Christ did.
“I just don’t feel like I see enough of that at BYU, especially being a member of this community,” she said.
BYU sociology student Madi Hawes is part of the unofficial Understanding Sexuality, Gender and Allyship group at BYU and said she attended the demonstration to show her support for other students. She said she feels there’s a good group of support for LGBTQ students at BYU, but it can always be bigger and stronger.
Puck Roth, vice president of the Spectrum Queer Student Alliance at Utah Valley University, came to support the community at BYU. Roth said there’s definitely more acceptance at UVU, but students still need to work pretty hard to create safe spaces there as well.